NC Issues Warnings for Coal Ash Pits

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 @ 05:05 PM gHale

Residents living near Duke Energy’s coal ash pits in North Carolina are getting warnings it is not safe to drink or cook with their well water after tests showed contamination levels that are raising health concerns.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said last week 152 wells tested near Duke’s dumps failed to meet state groundwater standards. That represents over 93 percent of the 163 wells tested so far.

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Many of the tests results show high levels of toxic heavy metals such as lead, vanadium and hexavalent chromium.

Last month, the state said tests of 87 private wells near Duke’s plants failed to meet state standards. A state law passed after last year’s spill into the Dan River required testing of all drinking wells within 1,000 feet of Duke’s 32 coal ash dumps.

The ash is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. It contains numerous potentially harmful chemicals, including those now showing up in the wells of Duke’s neighbors.

So far, Duke is providing bottled water to “about half a dozen” of the residents, but the company indicated that number should rise. The company maintains the groundwater contamination is all naturally occurring.

“We do not believe our ash basins are responsible for the water quality concerns, but we want them to have peace of mind while more study is done,” said Paige Sheehan, a Duke spokeswoman.

The nation’s largest electricity company, Duke stores more than 150 million tons of coal ash in 32 dumps at 14 power plants in North Carolina.

In February, federal prosecutors charged Duke with nine criminal counts over years of illegal pollution leaking from ash dumps at five of the plants. The company has said it intends to plead guilty to the charges as part of an agreement requiring it to pay $102 million in fines and restitution.

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